Elise May, a Port Washington resident and teaching artist, has been awarded a 2015 Long Island Creative Curriculum Grant for the Arts for her program “Multicultural Voices: I Have a Dream.” This year’s program, developed with Weber Middle School’s ESL/ELL teachers Amy Booth, Helen Hsie and Debra Ravo, had 17 students from Japan, El Salvador, Korea and Guatemala in sixth through eighth grade.
Ravo said, “I believe this program really makes a positive impact on the students, and it is evident that they have taken what they have learned and applied it to their other classes. I think they walked away feeling and knowing that their words were important.”
May said, “Our primary goal is to help ESL students become as confident expressing themselves in English as in their own native language.” The program uses interactive, theatrical storytelling workshops to empower students by helping them improve intelligibility and communication confidence. The culminating project is a video in which the students share their dreams for the future, their families, their community and the world. They also created an artistic representation of their dreams.
Social and academic stress in middle school can be difficult for any student. With the added pressures and challenges of learning a second language and being new to this country, students may become anxious, unwilling to participate and feel left out of much that school has to offer. By using theatrical techniques to help students creatively overcome their fears of performing in English and improve pronunciation, May hopes to increase students’ comfort level with spoken English so they may have fun using language expressively.
Booth said, “The program was a success this year, as it always is. Students incorporated elocution techniques in year-end oral presentations that they made in other classes. They will carry these essential public-speaking skills forward as they continue to develop their English language proficiency.”
May has been working with Weber’s ESL/ELL students since 2005 with the support of the Weber HSA, the Port Washington Education Foundation, Director of ESL Shirley Cepero, Weber Principal Marilyn Rodahan and the Weber ESL teachers. May has taught theater and elocution programs in all Port Washington public schools, the library, the Parent Resource Center, St. Peter of Alcantara as well as North Shore, Garden City, Bethpage, Massapequa and other local districts. She is a member of New York State Theatre Education Association and has taught at their teacher and student conferences.
Multicultural Voices receives funding from the Decentralization Program, a program of the New York State Council on the Arts that is administered by The Huntington Arts Council, Inc.